Chutney. Even the word is odd, isn’t it? And we think that just about everyone will agree that the flavor is odd, too. Not bad, necessarily, just, well, … , different. To us, chutneys taste like something we can’t quite define. They’re full of flavor, some sweet, some sour, some spicy, but we can’t really pick out any particular flavor. It’s just odd to have a bit of chutney. Again, not bad, just odd, from that mix of undefinable flavors.
In our case, one of us likes chutney for the very reason that they taste like something you’ve never had before, while the other doesn’t really think that’s the best way to decide if you like a food product. Who’s right? Probably both, somewhat.
We wondered, what does it really take to make a chutney with all those complex flavors? Industrial and artificial flavors, perhaps? As it turns out, no. They seem pretty easy to put together, but require a bit of simmering and a few weeks to meld, so don’t think you’ll quick whip up a chutney to go with tonight’s dinner. Instead, think of it as a journey that will have you making your own condiment.
Our chutney is based on one from Farmhouse Classics — Pickles, Chutney’s & Preserves, by Alison Lingard.
For the onions, we used some of those Glendale Gold Little Sweetie Onions that we’ve been getting from the CSA. Since you won’t find those in a store, we’d suggest some other sweet onions (Vidalia, Walla Walla), or even a mix of several types of onions to make your chutney more complex: red, yellow, white, and sweet. We used a white balsamic vinegar, mainly because it was less expensive than our “ordinary” balsamic vinegar, plus we use white balsamic so rarely, we thought this would be a good place to use it. The red wine vinegar was just a large commercial brand. Nope, we haven’t started scratchin’ out our own vinegars, at least not yet.
Procedure in detail:
Caramelize onion. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the onions and the mustard seeds, and cook until the onions are tender, translucent, and starting to brown, about 20 minutes. You don’t need the onions to brown completely, but having some of the onion pieces starting to brown will add to the flavor.
Add sugar and vinegar. Once the onions are soft, add brown sugar, vinegars, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
Simmer. Here’s one part where you need some patience. Let the chutney simmer until it’s reduced to about 1/3 the volume and is thickening, about 45 minutes. Don’t worry; you don’t need to be there every minute, just give it a stir every five minutes or so to check if it’s ready, and to prevent burning. (We wrote this up while it was simmering, so you see, it’s not as if you can’t do something else while the chutney is simmering).
Pack. We packed ours chutney into a half-pint canning jar, but we didn’t process it, so into the refrigerator it goes. The taste should mellow and become more complex as time goes on; we’ll see.
We did taste the chutney while we were packing it, and, while it was good, it didn’t have the complexity of something like Major Gray’s Chutney. Major Gray’s is, of course, filled with a variety of spices, so it’s no surprise that this is more straightforward in the flavor department. But our chutney it still is good, and it’s a great way to try your hand at chutney-making, too. For simplicity, four stars, and we’ll update this post in a few weeks to let you know how the flavors meld and change.